One of the most famous addresses in children’s books has been designated a literary landmark. Fans of the late author-illustrator Bernard Waber well know that his beloved character Lyle the Crocodile lived with the Primm family in The House on East 88th Street (Houghton Mifflin, 1962) in New York City. On Wednesday, May 14, E. 88th Street, and the building at number 421 (currently home to Yorkville Community School/P.S. 151) were granted literary landmark status to honor Waber (and Lyle, who was on hand for the festivities). A United for Libraries bronze plaque will be mounted on the exterior of the school, to officially mark the spot.
The ceremony was timed to help celebrate Children’s Book Week (May 12–18), the annual national literacy awareness campaign of the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader. Among the day’s speakers was Betsy Groban, senior v-p and publisher for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Waber’s longtime publisher. “The stars were aligned right from the start around the idea of celebrating Bernie Waber’s work with a Literary Landmark in the city and on the very street where his beloved creation, Lyle the Crocodile, makes his home,” she said. “I approached Rocco Staino of the Empire State Center for the Book with this idea shortly after Bernie died last year and everything fell into place quickly and easily. Bernie was a cherished member of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt family for decades. His gentle and urbane spirit lives on in the many books for children that we are honored to have published.”
Other highlights of the event included a reading of The House on East 88th Street by Waber’s grandchildren Anna Cash, Mason Cash, and Reuben Gordon; as well as a performance of the song “Look on the Bright Side” from the Lyle the Crocodile musical, which was sung by the school’s second-grade chorus.
Waber’s daughter Paulis (illustrator of Lyle Walks the Dogs) expressed her family’s deep gratitude for the tribute, thankful that “Lyle the Crocodile will always truly live on East 88th.” She offered a brief remembrance of her father, and imagined what his reaction to this honor might have been. “We were so fortunate to have Bernard Waber as our father and grandfather,” she said. “He was ferocious in his pursuit of creative excellence, and utterly sweet and unassuming in life. Our dad was a shy young art school graduate when he and our mother, Ethel Waber, first came to New York. Immediately they fell in love with the city. Could he have known then that one day he’d be honored with a plaque in the city he so loved and admired, he really might have fainted on the street! With any luck it would have been magical East 88th Street.”
Since United for Libraries launched the Literary Landmark program in 1986, more than 130 Literary Landmarks have been dedicated nationwide.